A Meta-Analysis of school based interventions aimed to prevent or reduce violence in teen dating relationships

De La Rue, Polanin, Espelage, & Pigott (2017) A Meta-Analysis of school based interventions aimed to prevent or reduce violence in teen dating relationships. Review of Educational Research, Vol 87, p 7-34


What do we already know?

Research background

  • 10-25% of teen relationships involve physical or verbal aggression
  • Teen dating violence affects mental health, school achievement and may increase risk of long term victimisation
  • Primary prevention programs may reduce violence in adult relationships
  • Most primary prevention programs aim to change knowledge, attitudes and build skill.

But do these prevention programs reduce the occurrence of teen dating violence?



Sample: 23 studies

Analysis: Systematic review & Meta-analysis

Independent variable: Prevention Program v comparison or control group

Outcome variables: Attitudes, knowledge, perpetrator behaviour and victimisation experiences



Small to moderate effect on attitudes and knowledge

Small effect on victimisation experiences at end of program, but effect not sustained over time

No effect on perpetrator behaviour at end of program, but very small effect emerged at follow up.


We can't confidently conclude that teen prevention programs impact violent behaviour, at least not in a meaningful way.  

So what does it mean in practice?

The author's highlighted that a majority of the prevention programs appear to focus on changing knowledge and attitudes, however this may not predict change in behaviour.  

Only two studies explicitly referred to skills training in the programs and the author's suggest that may focus on this area may be required to effect real behaviour change.  They suggest skills should include how to negotiate conflict in a healthy way and how to leave and seek support if exposed to abuse in a relationship.

Our two cents ...

Only six of the 23 studies actually measured behaviour change, so there is a dearth of research in this area.  Of those six, four measured both changes in both perpetrator behaviour and victimisation experiences.  To expect the same program to have an impact on both behaviours reflects an underlying assumption that the factors that lead someone to be violent, are the same factors that lead an individual to be a victim of violence.  This appears to be a faulty program logic and programs are likely to be more effective when tailored specifically for the behaviour that is targeted for change.

The take home

Current prevention programs are unlikely to change behaviour

More skill building should be included in prevention programs

More RCTs are needed to explore link between skill building and behaviour change

What do you think?  

What skills should be included in violence prevention programs?  Is it possible to reduce violence perpetration and victimisation with the same program?  Does shifting knowledge and attitudes eventually shift behaviour?  What else?

Leave us your two cents in the comments.